Space Loo

In pretty much every interview of astronauts I've ever seen on kid's TV shows, the question of going to the toilet always pops up. In free fall, when gravity isn't being helpful, the process needs some technological help. Over at Astropixie, Amanda shares a video discussing how astronauts use

the toilet in space. The practice toilets even have the added feature of an "alignment camera" to ensure accurate "docking".

Back in 2006 I was lucky enough to visit the amazing science museum in Tokyo and one of the exhibits was a mock-up of parts of the International Space Station. I was pleased that they'd included the 'little astronauts room' complete with restraints, foot straps and assorted tubes.

ISS toilet
A mockup of a space station toilet. CREDIT: Stuart
Another of the rooms looked like a rather cramped quarters with photographs on the wall and some bedtime reading. Perhaps Soichi Noguchi sleeps somewhere like this.

ISS mockup
ISS mockup CREDIT: Stuart

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 18th May 2010 (23:24 BST) | Permalink

Moon and Venus

Last night we had some clear skies and I caught a nice glimpse of a slim, crescent Moon with Venus nearby. The Moon moves fairly quickly though so the two appeared much closer several hours ago as seen from Australia. The Moon was even seen to occult Venus from India and Northern Africa this morning.

Moon and Venus
The Moon and Venus seen on 15 May 2010 CREDIT: Stuart

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Sunday 16th May 2010 (12:06 BST) | Permalink

The cost of success

It has been a while since I mentioned Chromoscope here and I thought I'd write an update.

I wrote Chromoscope from scratch as a way to visualise the sky at different wavelengths. It's written in Javascript/CSS/HTML which means that it runs in most browsers and doesn't need Flash. I also wrote it so that it could be run locally from a hard drive or memory stick without needing an internet connection. The original was used for a Royal Society Summer Science Exhibit and Chris, Rob and I launched the online version at .Astronomy back in December.

Initially there was a surge of visitors which seemed to fall off over time as I'd expected. In December I was contacted by one of the programme makers behind Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds and provided the multi-wavelength sky images to them. The images were used, albeit briefly, in the second programme in the series which aired at the end of March. Within hours of that programme airing, the number of people using Chromoscope increased dramatically (from 10s per day to more than 15,000 per day). The BBC programme didn't actually mention Chromoscope but someone did add it to StumbleUpon. In the past month or two there have been (on average and ignoring a period of down time) more than 10,000 visitors per day with the majority of these coming from StumbleUpon!

The amazing response is slightly tempered by the Amazon Web Services (AWS) bill which reached USD147 last month. Amazon currently host most of the images used by Chromoscope (Cardiff University host the gamma ray set), and the bill covers each image tile request and the bandwidth for transferring it. This cost is currently covered by me so I'm considering adding a PayPal donate link to the Chromoscope webpage. The aim would not be to make a profit but simply to cover the hosting/bandwidth costs and pay Rob back for the domain name registration. Although Chromoscope is hugely popular, and AWS has allowed it to scale with demand, the current funding system doesn't scale!

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 06th May 2010 (18:34 BST) | Permalink
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